Luckily for anyone whose feline companion has access to weapons, those headlines are blatantly untrue.
The study, led by University of Edinburgh researchers, compares the personalities of domestic cats with those of Scottish wildcats, clouded leopards, snow leopards and African lions, based on assessments made by cat caretakers and zookeepers. It was published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology last year. Not even lead researcher Marieke Gartner knows why it exploded in the media this week.
What she does know is that a lot of news outlets have gotten her study wrong.
For one thing, she did not find anything indicating that domestic cats want to kill humans.
“My research did not suggest this — in fact, it’s completely unrelated,” she told The Huffington Post in an email. “I don’t know why people would say that.”
But that’s not all journalists got wrong. Article after article claims that across the board, both domestic cats and lions have prominent personality traits of “neuroticism,” “impulsivity” and “dominance.” But this is a misunderstanding of the study, Gartner said.
When Gartner refers to neuroticism, impulsivity and dominance, she basically means that when you’re assessing a cat’s personality, it’s possible to place the cat somewhere on the spectrum of not very neurotic to very neurotic.
“In humans, personality is described by five personality factors: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism,” Gartner wrote. “There is a difference between factors and traits — so no, the most prominent personality traits [in cats and lions] are not dominance, impulsivity, and neuroticism. These are the three personality factors that describe each species — but each individual will range along the spectrum of traits that make up each of the personality factors.”
Mikel Delgado, certified cat behavior consultant and Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley has some ideas about why people love to attribute murderous motives to cats.
“They don’t have as many facial muscles [as dogs],” she told HuffPost. “Their face is harder to interpret. People do seem to wonder, ‘What’s my cat thinking?'”
Cats just aren’t as big or as potentially dangerous as many dogs, so imagining them wanting to off us isn’t really threatening.
“We almost find it humorous that cats want to kill us, or hate us or we’re their slaves,” Delgado said. Plus, she noted, people have coexisted with cats for millennia.
“If they really wanted to kill us,” she asked, “don’t you think it would have happened?”
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